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Social Media for the Next Generation of Doctors? Maybe They Don’t Want It, Even if they Should

​Recently I had a chance to sit down with a group of freshmen medical students at a local university in order to talk to them about social media. I was surprised to discover that, unlike almost every other young person in the world they were pretty resistant to the idea. They told me that they felt it was just too risky, under current medical guidelines, to use any form of social media. Some of them told me that they have even deleted their personal Facebook pages [on which they spoke about absolutely nothing medical] for fear that they could inadvertently violate some rule.

Recently I had a chance to sit down with a group of freshmen medical students at a local university in order to talk to them about social media. I was surprised to discover that, unlike almost every other young person in the world they were pretty resistant to the idea. They told me that they felt it was just too risky, under current medical guidelines, to use any form of social media. Some of them told me that they have even deleted their personal Facebook pages [on which they spoke about absolutely nothing medical] for fear that they could inadvertently violate some rule.

And the rules are numerous. In fact, the Federation of State Medical Boards just came out with a set of guidelines describing how doctors should be using social media. To summarize, doctors are not allowed to divulge any sort of personal information in the public sphere; the rules are so severe, in fact, that even mentioning a case you had, without any personal information included, is verboten. In this environment, the FSMB suggests not talking directly to patients at all.

There, I believe, is where these medical students were getting hung up. Just because you can’t talk directly to patients, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use social media at all; you will just have to limit yourself to more general, thought leadership-style posts. A doctor whom I feel does this very well is the Comprehensive OB-GYN of the Palm Beaches, whose Facebook page is filled with useful information that does not violate medical guidelines.

Even when I went through the guidelines and showed the examples to the students, they were still hesitant. They had the strictures against social media so heavily ingrained in them that it would take something more than what I had to offer to convince them otherwise.

This is especially concerning because, as a recently released PricewaterhouseCoopers survey showed, people really do want to communicate with their doctors on social media.

I understand that it’s always a good idea for a doctor to be cautious, but I feel that the rules about [and demand for] social media in the medical field is clear enough that any doctor would be smart to use it.

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